Saturday, December 12, 2015

1971 Montreal Expos (5th): 71-90, .441, 25.5GB

Just 2 years removed from their expansion season the Expos rose out of the cellar for the first time more due to the ineptness of the Phillies than the improvement of their own team.  In fact they won 2 less games than the previous season.  Still the fans in Montreal were treated to competitive baseball for the first 2 months of the season with the Expos being at or near .500 during that stretch.  As the temperature heated up the Expos cooled off and fell double digits behind the division leaders.  Manager Gene Mauch got the most out of a squad that feature the worst pitching staff in the league.  Montreal finished dead last in ERA and runs allowed.  Mauch basically had two reliable arms to go to all season.  Bill Stoneman (17-16, 3.15) logged nearly 300 innings (294.2), but was basically a .500 pitcher due to run support.  Steve Renko (15-14, 3.75) chipped in 275 innings.  After those two the rest of the staff was challenged at best.  Newly found closer Mike Marshall (5-8, 4.28) had his moments, and was well on his way to becoming the best reliever in the league, but he was still learning his role in '71.  The offense was led by Le Grand Orange, an unsung superstar who was beloved in Montreal.  At 27, Rusty Staub was at the top of his game.  He was a great fielder with a fantastic arm and a clutch RBI bat.  How he moved from one expansion team to another boggles my mind.  This is a guy who you would have expected to spend his full career in one uniform.  He is about as close to a hall of famer as you can get without getting in.  Besides Rusty's .311-19-97 line the rest of the lineup , as well as the bench, was mediocre at best.  Boots Day patrolled center and hit .283, but his 4 homers were not enough to qualify him to hold down an OF spot.  Newly acquired Ron Hunt played a solid second and hit a respectable .279.  His OBP was an outstanding .402, mostly because he "managed" to gain base by being hit by a pitch an astounding 50 times.  When all was said and done the Expose offense was sub par and powerless (11th in the league in HR's).  With only 2 able bodied and reliable arms this team was destined for the second division.  Still, they made it out of cellar and that was something to build on.

A total of 15 cards were produced to round out the set.  All photos, except where noted, were supplied by Jeff D.

The 5'9", 165lb Day was neither a powerhouse nor a speedster.  Day's .283 average was the high point of his career.  Day was eventually traded in 1974 to the Dodgers for fading superstar Willie Davis.  He would eventually wind up in the minors and then out of baseball.  He spent the remainder of his baseball life as a scout and a hitting instructor in the independent leagues.
The 1970 NL ROY regressed badly to become a .500 pitcher who mysterously lost all of his ability to strike out batters.  I personally liked this photo better than the original card, so I created this replacement card myself.  Morton would be on a downward spiral that would eventually see him banished to Atlanta and out of baseball by 1977.
Mashore playe parts of 4 seasons for the 'Spos starting in 1970 when he got his first career hit, RBI and homer all with one swing off of Ray Sadecki to win the game.  As a 4th / 5th outfielder Mashore was a fine bench contributor up north.  Never big with the stick Mashore hit .193 in 1971 and finished up his career with 8 homers and a .208 average.  Coincidentally his son Damon would finish his career with the same amount of homers.  Both were similar players.
28 year old Dave McDonald hit .103 in 39 AB's for the 'Spos in his one and only season in Montreal.  His only prior cup of Joe was 2 years earlier with the Yankees where he did worse.  A career minor leaguer McDonald managed to hang on and play 3 more seasons at AAA before hitting .176 at Tidewater (NYM affiliate) and being released.  In 13 minor league seasons he hit .265 with 165 homers.
McAnally made the Major Leagues during the 1971 season and it proved to be his finest. He reached career highs in victories (11), innings pitched (1772⁄3), and complete games (8). All told he won 30 of 79 decisions (.380) in 112 career MLB games, with 351 strikeouts.  Sent to the Cleveland Indians after the 1974 season, he returned to the minor leagues for one year before leaving the game. (from wikipedia)

A fan favorite, especially due to the fact that Parc Jary PA announcer Claude Mouton announced his name so distincly.  It sounded like John Bock-E-Ah-Bell-AH.  Known for his great defense he hit around .220 in 74 games for the Stros.  An original Expo, Boccabella played 5 seasons in Montreal before moving over to San Fran and retiring at the age of 33.  In total he played parts of 12 seasons with the Cubs, Expos and Giants.  Without expansion he surely would have never been given the opportunity to play like he got in Montreal, because in Chicago he was buried behind Randy Hundley.
His original 1974 card was a classic airbrush job that I couldn't live with.  Marshall, who would win the 1974 Cy Young award (as a Dodger), was just coming into his own as a reliever.  While his 1971 numbers weren't impressive he was just on the precipice of becoming an elite reliever.  Marshall would toil in the majors for 14 seasons and amass a total of 188 saves.  His record of 106 appearances in 1974 still stands.  Today he is an adviser to young pitchers with his unique pitching style and theories that are not widely accepted by the regressive baseball community.
Torrez, who appeared in just 1 game for he Expos in 1971, was at the turning point of what would become a solid 18 year career.  Due to arm trouble and numbers issues he never got a full chance to star in St. Louis.  By 1972 he would become the Expos staff's workhorse and a solid major league arm and often times a dominant one in years to come.
Hacker's lone major league exposure was the 16 games he played for Montreal in 1971.  In fact it was impossible to find a color photo of him in an Expo uniform, so I used my own airbrush techniques to put an Expo logo on his Winipeg minor league cap.  In 33 AB's he hit just .121, which wasn't a heck of a lot better than his minor league numbers in 8 seasons (.227).
I just liked this photo so I created a new card for Fairly.  If you look up the phrase "professional hitter" you'll see Fairly's photo.  Not only was he a "good stick" he also had a solid glove. In his 21 year MLB career Fairly was a key contributor, especially on those great mid 60's Dodgers championship teams.  He is the only player in major league history to hit 200 or more home runs without ever hitting 20 or more in a single season.  1971 was a down year for him (.257-13-71), but he rebounded nicely in 1972.  All told this original Expo played 6 seasons in Montreal before moving on to play in STL, OAK, TOR before coming full circle and returning to SoCal in 1978 to finish up.

I can't imagine being hit by a pitch 50 times in one year by major league pitching.  Ron Hunt turned the HBP into an art form.  Hunt had 4 solid seasons with the Expos before moving on to St. Louis.  When asked how he dealt with being plunked so many times he responded, "“Some people give their bodies to science; I give mine to baseball".
Woods, your classic 5th outfielder, had a career best .297 batting average in 51 games playing for the Expos after arriving mid season in a deal that sent Ron Swoboda to the Yankees.  Woods would play parts of the next 3 seasons, before hanging it up at the age of 31.  He would finish his 8 year career with a .233 average and 26 homers.
Swanson's one and only shot at the biggs came in '71 where he hit .245 in 49 games for the 'Spos.  Swanson's lack of power would not afford him a regular slot in the outfield, so he was sent back to the minors before being released and picked up by Cleveland.  The following season he hit a powerless .293 in Portland (PCL) and was given his release.

Career backup catcher, Humphrey, was your typical catch and throw guy.  1971 would be his first taste of the majors.  He would hit .192 in 9 games, which pretty much mirrored the rest of his 9 year career where he was a lifetime .211 hitter.  Humphrey was given a shot at the full time job by the Angels in 1976-1978, but he just never hit enough to stick.  After hitting .059 in 1979 he was done.
"Rocky" Swoboda will forever be etched into baseball lore for making that unreal diving catch in the 1969 World Series off a Brooks Robinson sinking liner.  By 1971 he was a journeyman outfielder with no pop, who split time between the Expos and the Yankees.  In just 39 games up north he hit .253 with no homers.  By 1974 he would be out of baseball.  His catch would be voted one of the ten greatest moments in World Series history.  He would later go on to a successful career in broadcasting.

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